Baroque Interludium 02

I started this, so I might as well continue. Have another badly translated novel.

Empathy

“Do, do you think that fish will forgive me?”
Mayu asked to the small elephant plushie that was lying on the desk.
“Did you gather all the pieces?”
I was sitting outside of Mayu’s vision, and replying in the plushie’s stead.
“Yes. Like, like usual, I, I’ve wrapped them in paper and put them in, in a box”
“The fish is not alone then. Even if broken, he is still by your side”
“I see. I see. I see”
Mayu stood up and turned around. Her face was emaciated, dark hair falling on her scared, pale visage. Her left eye looked distant, the sign of a Baroque.
“Tha, thanks. I’ll, come again”
Mayu pulled out her wallet to pay my fare. It was worn down and dirty, looked like there should have been some kind of pattern on it at one point, but you could see none of it anymore.
But the money was just fine.
“So what was it today? Repentance for breaking the plate with the fish?”
Ruby inquired, as she popped out from under the desk and lifted the elephant toy by its ears.
“Yeah. Hey, don’t break that. It’s the most important thing for my customer”
Mayu could see the spirit of “things”: toys, small objects, even patterns on a plate, she spoke with them, heard them back, and avoided relating with anything alive.
For Mayu, breaking a toy was tantamount to murder, throwing a broken dish into the garbage bin was like dumping a corpse. And yet, in order to keep on living, she had to use objects. Mayu was conscious of her sin, and her suffering made her voice tremble all the time.
“Those customers are rare, aren’t they?”
“The ones who come for repeat sessions? Yeah, true”
Mayu had visited three times so far.
“You could find that kid’s Baroque, right? Why don’t you just give it to her?”
“That wouldn’t be good timing. After all, she carries money whenever she comes here”
“Ah, right. But I thought you were a better person than this, Kitsune”
“The customer is not complaining”
“If it were me, I’d give that kid the Baroque of a soap bubble. Broken things aren’t thrown into the garbage, they just vanish into the air. Poof!”
“And that’s why you are just a loiterer. You would make for a lousy Baroquemonger”
I booted up the machine, and added a few things to Mayu’s Baroque file.
“I’m going home”
Ruby threw the toy elephant at me.
“Don’t get eaten on the way back”
I could hear sirens in the distance. It was the sign of a meta-being hunting squad. It was supposed to be a secret, but everybody knew by now. The streets were getting more dangerous every day, but Ruby kept going in and out without a care. Where her home was, I had no idea.

Four days later, Mayu knocked on my door again.
Her face and clothes were covered in some kind of soot. I quickly put the elephant on the desk and moved behind Mayu. She turned to the toy and started crying.
“T-t-t-they are all dead. They burned up and crumbled into, into a black ball of ash”
“Who burned?” I asked through the elephant.
“The little ones in the car. I, I tried to help, but then I almost, almost burned too”
Indeed, Mayu’s body emitted the distinct smell of burned plastic and crisped hair.
I quietly waited until Mayu cried herself into a calm state.
After twelve minutes, she raised her head and spoke to the elephant.
“I see. This time, I must have revenge on the invisible demons”
Mayu spoke in an unusually firm way. The “invisible demons” were probably Mayu’s parents. Mayu sometimes lamented that evil spirits swept away her things – those were definitely her parents cleaning up the room. I didn’t know if it was also them who burned up the stuff in the car, but if I’d let Mayu go home at this point, she might have tried to hurt her parents in “revenge”.
“Wait a second. Before that, look here”
I turned away from the plushie and onto the computer, printed out Mayu’s Baroque file, then showed it to her.
“My eyes are camera lenses. I capture the images as the old man on my left side commands me to. The images on my eye cancel the future, and become the past, where they can enjoy their sleep. Letting them sleep is my job. Protecting my secret is the old man who shines light on the past, my grandfather…”
“Wait, he is?”
Mayu had moved away the hair from her face. Her left eye was still facing the elephant, but her right eye was now looking at me.
“Yes. Everything, from the snowman painted on a glove that you lost when you were seven, to the woman depicted on the wrapping paper of the confectionery, which burned time ago. If you want to meet them, you’ll be able to meet them at any time”
“And the demons?”
“The old man drove them away”
“…. I see….”
“Is this Baroque fine?”
“Yes, thanks”
Ruby entered as soon as Mayu left. She gave out the same smell of burning things that Mayu had on her. Thinking about it, she had previously said that she wanted to go after Mayu…

“It wasn’t me. It was the arsonist Baroque kid down the block… probably”
“Why did you follow Mayu?”
“I had time to spare. And it would have been boring if some meta-being ate her before she could obtain a Baroque”
“Just like a bodyguard. And I bet you had nothing to do with burning those important things”
“But now that you gave her a Baroque, it doesn’t matter anymore even if her entire world burns away, right?”
“You wouldn’t be saying that if I hadn’t just taken care of the situation”
Admittedly, Mayu didn’t hoard things because she loved them. She just feared the pain and sadness of throwing them away. Almost as if she herself were the invisible demon she so fervently hated. However, if it was Mayu’s destiny to take in the feelings of things, and those things were stored in a delusional place always inside her, then Mayu was finally freed from her fears.
“Do you still need that elephant plushie?”
“You can take it”
“I will. Truth is, I’ve always liked fairy tales and stories”
Four days later, a woman who presented herself as Mayu’s mother visited, bringing a cake.
“Thank you. My kid finally got rid of those piles of junk”
One bite, and it tasted unexpectedly good. I didn’t want to give any to Ruby, so I hid somewhere. Before I could even take my second bite, I received a tape that Mayu had recorded as her last will.
If I had kept eating the cake without first watching the tape, I would have felt like an invisible demon myself. So I put the tape into my set. It was an old deck, and the picture looked worn out and noisy.
On the screen, you could see a close-up of Mayu’s face.
“I’m going to grandpa’s place”
With those words, Mayu turned on her left side, and then stabbed her right eye with scissors. No!, said a voice behind me, it was Ruby who had just come in and was looking at the screen. I rewinded the tape and watched it again, several times. Every single time, Mayu said she was going to grandpa’s place, stabbed her right eye, and died. I took the tape out of the deck. This black, square thing was now Mayu herself.
“She really went to the world of things, uh”
“Yeah”
I felt relief. Good thing my job experience told me to place the old man on her left side. If I had told her it was on the right side instead, and she then stabbed her left eye, she would have died like a Baroque, and that would have been suspicious. Controlling the past is always a job for the left side.
Ruby sighed.
“Kitsune, are you really sure things don’t have a mind?”
“Another fairy tale of yours?”
“… here. I found it like this in the morning”
Ruby was holding the elephant plushie. The button that was meant to be its right eye had been gouged out.

 

Only two left now. My job is being a pain nowadays, so it might take a while before I get the next one up. We’ll see what I can do during the weekend.

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Baroque Interludium 01

Last week, once again, we have had the anniversary of the Great Heat Wave. Will the world truly end in another 18 years? If it does, I can assume it won’t be because of some giant fireball propagating from a tower. Probably.

Anyway, I wanted to do something for the occasion. I thought about maybe bolstering my collection, but I already have most Baroque things. Well, I’m still missing the manga, but there will be time for that. So I thought maybe I’d put my terrible japanese skills to the test, and translate the Baroque Interludium novels.

These are short stories that were serialized on the Sega Saturn Magazine some time after the game was launched. They draw some basic elements from Baroque, as well as the characters and setting from Baroque Prologue, the short novel that was printed in the World Guidance book (I would like to try and translate that one, but I’d need to find a transcribed version first, because translating without the help of rikaichan is pretty hard). Interludium and Prologue eventually served as foundations for Baroque Syndrome, which kinda fused all these stories into a single game (with multiple routes, mind). The novels can be all found here.

There are only two characters from Prologue that you need to know about: Kitsune, the Baroquemonger from the remake, and Ruby, a strange girl he met during difficult circumstances. I should mention that the happenings in Interludium contrast with those in Syndrome, so if we consider that game canon, then these stories definitely are not… but they will still make for a quick fun read, I hope. Well, except for my terrible translation and writing skills. Sorry if some things don’t make a lot of sense.

01 – Precognition

People are actors in the grand stage called life, I say. Yet there are many who weren’t given the role they really wanted, and suffer as a result. To those who have gotten tired and ill from carrying out a role they weren’t made for, I give the illusion of a better stage, the part they really wanted to play. I’m Kitsune Kanezawa. That’s what I do for a living.
“So in other words, as long as they’ve got the money, you give one final push to their Baroques?” Ruby said, lying on the sofa and flapping her legs up and down, like a little kid.
“Still better than loitering around in someone else’s office like you do. Now get off, that sofa is for the customers”
“But you are sitting on the only chair in the room…”
“Come on, someone’s here”
Ruby stood up without a word. Right then, a young girl wearing a green dress entered the office. Her face, hidden by her long hair, looked beautiful – but in her eyes, the pupils seemed to be floating around. A Baroque.
“Oh, I’ve made a mistake again”
The girl suddenly collapsed on the spot.
Confused as I was, I helped the girl up, and gave her some medicine to drink.
“It’s a medicine that will let you talk without the need for breathing.”
By experience, I knew the best things to say to Baroques.
“Thank you. I feel better now. Baroquemongers really are amazing”
I smiled in response. That medicine was actually… well, nevermind that.

“My name is Ami”
Ami was sitting, both her hands neatly down on her knees. Her behavior was more adult than she was. Refined. Maybe she was an important lady, might even have lots of money.
“I would rather not reveal my family name, if you don’t mind”
“That’s fine”
I gave her a smile that showed I understood her situation. In my line of work, I use 18 different kinds of smiles.
“Um, from what little I know, you are able to give people their Baroques?”
“Let’s try and look for yours”
I faced the desk and started my computer. Under the desk, Ruby was hugging her knees and smiling. She always did this whenever a customer was around. I guess she liked to watch me doing my job.
“The more keywords, the better the search results will be, so I need you to give me some more details about your Baroque, its traits”
My fingers were running through the keys as I spoke.
“Well, I see a white light suddenly flash before my eyes. Beyond the light there are many doors, and behind those doors, just as many possible futures. I choose one door, and the future behind it becomes reality”
“Is it an absolute certainty?”
“Even before coming here, I saw your face and this room. Actually, I saw the faces of two men. I chose your face, because you looked younger and more determined”
Ruby burst into a laughter under the desk. Ami didn’t seem to notice. She didn’t seem to notice anything around her, probably because of her Baroque.
“But even as I was coming here, I saw the next possible futures. I die, or think horrible things, or become someone different… uuhhh…”
Ami was covering her eyes with her fingers.
“After choosing a future, I also see the results of the other choices. If I hadn’t come here, among other possibilities, a bird would have flapped into my hands. That might have made me a bit happier. I always pick the worst choice.”
One could only see her lips moving through her hands.
“Do you also sometimes see other people’s futures?”
“I see bad futures very well. If you carry someone’s memento with you, soon you will end up taking the same path as them… if you try and help a friend bitten by a poisonous spider, you will be killed by the poison instead…”
“So there are several futures”
Ami moved her hands away from her face, and looked straight at me, but her eyes weren’t looking at anything at all.
“No. This future can never be changed”
“I see”
Anyway, I thought up a rational story for her Baroque, printed it out, and gave it to Ami.
“I’m the sword held by Maat’s right hand. I kill those who disgrace Maat, purify them. There is no sheath to hold me. I have no mind of my own, but the scales Maat holds in her left hand are slightly tilted to the right, for they are loaded with the sword’s pain…”
“Who is Maat?”
“The egyptian goddess who ruled over the laws of the world”
“Oh. I see. Um… yes…”
Ami read the story several times, all while nodding.
“This is most definitely my Baroque.”
“I’m glad we were able to find it without any problems”
“Thank you very much”
Ami bowed politely, paid my fee, and walked away. The way she looked, I thought it would be more difficult, but in the end it turned out to be a simple job.

“Why Maat’s sword?”
“For that girl’s Baroque, a story about something that cannot think is necessary. Because her precognitions had already infected her to the deepest, they couldn’t be replaced with anything”
“Eeehh”
Ruby was now rolling around on the sofa where Ami was sitting just earlier.
“Kitsune, do you ever watch TV?”
“Rarely. The net is enough for me”
“I only glimpsed at her, but that girl, Tayura Ami (note: I can’t be sure that’s how you read her surname), she’s a famous TV personality”
“Mmh, you don’t say”
I wasn’t especially surprised.
“She performs in a program called Wondrous Precognitions. You know, I don’t think someone’s foresight is a Baroque”
“And you know, watching a scam program really fits you somehow”
“On TV she mentioned a 70% success rate, but also that if perchance it’s a bad future, she will make a mistake on purpose”
“I can relate to that. Baroquemongers do something a bit like that”
Nine days later, I got a package from Ami.
“The weight on Maat’s scale” was written on the accompanying letter. Inside the box was a dead bird. Such gifts from Baroques were not uncommon. I hung the bird by the window.
“Have you heard? Ami died”
Ruby said, as she entered the room and started poking the dead bird with her fingers.
“Word is, her precognition ability suddenly gave out. From the shock, she gave herself up to her Baroque and ran to Area Zero, where she got eaten by Meta-beings”
“Is that so”
“In the end, going to Kitsune’s place really was the worst choice for her”
“But after that, she always made the right choices. For her own good, I mean”
Ami always made bad choices. If she had always made the worst choice, then she might have saved herself. But as a Baroquemonger, it is my job to turn her regret into a delusion. She got herself eaten by a Meta-being, but since she was now a mindless sword, she won’t have suffered. And what little pain there was, she was able to cut away and send to me.
“If I knew it would come to this, I would have asked Ami to reveal my future too”
“What do you mean, your future too?”
“It’s unfair that only Kitsune got to hear about his future”
“…”
I didn’t remember hearing about that, but anything that bothered Ruby felt good to me.
My face grew into a smile. But as I only ever use 2 kinds of smiles outside of work, it felt like a waste. I dropped it.

 

I’ll try and translate the other ones when I have some time. There are four, so it might take a while. Maybe they will make more sense.

Tactical Espionage Graphics

I remember Sons of Liberty. It had one of the weirdest plot I’ve ever seen, at least for its time – nowadays, it’s been surpassed by many other games. But without letting the mumbo jumbo confuse us, it was still a competent action-stealth game. If you were playing on PC, though, Solidus Snake wasn’t your only problem: you also had to deal with a bunch of technical issues. I was able to play relatively well a few years ago, but the lack of sea was especially baffling – it felt like the Big Shell was some kind of airbase. Can’t forget that.

Luckily those genome soldiers with their highly developed senses of hearing and vision can’t see my arm sticking out

By most accounts, MGS1 wasn’t as bad. Of course, it does get a bit worrying when you open the readme file for the demo to see the “list of cards with known issues” – and notice that it includes just about every graphics card available at the time. Nevermind that their standard answer to every issue was to just update your video drivers. I wonder how well that worked for everyone.

On my part, I was able to try the game with a number of graphics cards, and didn’t notice anything particularly bad.

Geforce 2 GTS
Voodoo 3
Savage 3D
STB Velocity 128

Aside from some gamma differences, there is nothing really setting the first three cards apart. The Riva 128, on the other hand, has clear polygonal issues, and Snake’s shadow is also bad – although I would worry about his missing forehead first. It’s also a bit too slow. The V3 and GF2 have no trouble, while the Savage 3D can drop frames. I was also able to try a SiS 6326 and it was about as bad as you’d expect. Image quality was okay, but 320×240 was required for a playable experience.

The screenshots also highlight the dithering methods used by the different cards. Unsurprisingly, the Geforce 2 comes out on top, while the Riva 128 hands in the worst result. The S3D and V3 seem to trade blow on paper, but in truth, 3dfx’s higher precision internal rendering gives the image a much better quality that is simply not visible in screenshots.

Unfortunately, the game is prone to crashing when you try and change the visual options, so I’ll probably end up playing on 640×480 despite the Geforce 2 being able to power through 1024×768 just fine, even with 4x MSAA enabled from the GPU control panel. Not that I really wanted to use that, since the MSAA employed by Nvidia for the Geforce 2 seemed to cause a few issues.

1024×768: no AA, no problem
1024×768: AA 4X apparently causes what seems to be a reduction in color depth, with more obvious dithering: not a good tradeoff for some slightly smoother lines

Metal Gear Solid was clearly not a heavy game, being a PS1 port after all (on that note, I noticed some slightly wonky perspective correction no matter which card I used, perhaps a remnant of its PS1 roots). Sure, a SiS 6326 is outmatched, but what doesn’t outmatch a 6326? Yet even a semi-budget card like the Savage 3D turns in a well playable experience. Technically the game requires a DirectX 7 card, but that’s obviously not the case once you start playing, and the 4MB VRAM listed among the minimum requirements gives it away as well, since I’m pretty sure no DX7 card ever had less than 32MB.

The only other issue I noticed, is a distinct lack of correct framepacing during cutscenes. And for a game with a lot of cutscenes, that is not small problem after all. Oh well. It might be worth playing again anyway, if only to see how they handled Psycho Mantis without two gamepad ports…

We need to go deeper

I’ve talked in the past about how installing the latest available drivers for any given old graphics card, could occasionally not be the best idea.

Today I decided to test my cards again with a new game for the benchmark suite – MDK2. It is one of the most demanding tests included, especially since the only other OpenGL game I’ve got is Quake 2, which is not that difficult to run nowadays. It is, in fact, demanding enough that on default settings you need 15MBs just for textures. Most old cards won’t have that much, but AGP texturing is obviously an option. Except when it’s not…. and also when it should be, but it isn’t.

Crappy photo time! Look at that frametime, just look at it. You might also notice the color banding, but that should probably be the least of your worries.

My first test brought me to benchmark the STB Velocity 128, using the proprietary drivers with OGL support. As it turns out, it wasn’t a good idea. After one hour of suffering, I got my results: 0.36fps. Clearly there was something wrong. Attempting again with the newest universal drivers, I got a far more acceptable 27.8fps, albeit with some transparency issues. Most likely, the older drivers were unable to use system memory for textures. The score was effectively the same on the 128ZX in spite of its halved bus width and SDRAM, proving that the game wasn’t really using the card’s onboard memory at all. Though I suspect something else was at play too – other cards similarly unable to use system memory, still got better results (for example, the SiS 6326 8MB reached 2.2fps even though it should be slower than a Riva).

Look, I know zero frames per second isn’t exactly playable, but the overall image quality was actually higher than those newer drivers! That’s gotta count for something!

Moving onto the oft-maligned Trident Blade 3D, I initially noticed a similar behavior – horrendously slow framerates. This didn’t make sense, since I knew the Blade 3D was supposed to support AGP texturing just fine. I once again tried reverting to an older drivers set, which wasn’t so easy to find. Just about every site around will offer only the 6.50.5452-95 drivers, which are the latest ones. After a while, I was able to dig out these 6.50.5452-73 ones, which may sound similar but are really one year older. And now MDK2 works. Well, somewhat. While it’s now acceptable on 800×600 (though an average of 19fps isn’t anything to write home about), other resolutions will cause huge CPU frametime spikes for no apparent reason. Anyway, still better than 0.3fps. And the older drivers also gave me slightly better framerates in Quake 2, even though the OpenGL ICD included was supposedly still in beta, and solved some picture quality issues in Final Reality and Shadows of the Empire!

It’s a shame these drivers were hidden in the depths of the internet. The most commonly found ones tend to have more issues. I don’t think many people will care about old video cards anymore, but just in case there are other weirdos like me around, they oughta remember not to stop at what you see on the surface.

In other news, I’ve just ordered an Oxygen GVX1, which of course will need to go through the entire benchmark suite. Let’s hope I can do that without swapping drivers between tests.

Where the Stars end, Friends begin

(note: I’m now morally obligated to write a Destiny reference in every post title)

I’ll bore everyone with a second anime post, potentially the last one since it’s almost over now. Aikatsu Stars has been more interesting than I expected, at least its second season, and even though there was a whole lot of fillers and plotholes and generally many mistakes that only an anime for little girls could afford to make, I’ve still grown to care about the Venus Ark characters. And those characters will probably get their closure next week, leaving me with three episodes of wrap-up I won’t care all that much about.

Even so, I should at least write this last post with my predictions about how everyone could get a satisfying conclusion to their character arcs. It makes more sense to write it now that it hasn’t happened yet, rather than simply comment next month on what will have happened. My prediction will inevitably be wrong, but also probably be better than whatever we’re going to get, because we all know my ideas are amazing.

Why is everyone crying? Are they sad because the anime is ending this month? It’s not like there won’t be another series immediately after the end of Stars. Just saying.

Many seem to believe the S4 selection will be the main focus, but that doesn’t make a lot of sense now we are so close to the end. The selection will probaby just be the backdrop against which the various characters will get the closure they deserve (?).

Laura will accept the offer to study overseas. At this point, it’s better if the writers avoid having her partecipate in another S4 selection just to lose again. Failure is the greatest teacher, but there’s only so much you can learn by failing repeatedly. If they play their cards right, they could even have an entire episode dedicated to her departure before the selection. This would leave Yume without a rival, making hers an easy victory, but with the whole shtick about the Moon Dress, chances are she’ll still have a goal to strive towards.

One of the Venus Ark girls could transfer to Four Stars, and become the new Dance Class S4. I’d bet on Aria, since she fits the dancing theme more than the others, also that way she could stay around her beloved senpai. VA is disbanding anyway, so she has to go somewhere. It’s not like she couldn’t keep in contact with the other three. And besides, no way they are ever going to make Haruka Ruka into a big deal. It just won’t happen.

There’s been so much frowning lately, someone needed to smile more. There will probably be a lot of smiling in the next three episodes anyway.

Mahiru already had her character fully explored. I feel there isn’t anything else they could do with her. Whereas Koharu dreams of becoming S4, like Yume did back then… even so, I could never see her win the spot unless Mahiru specifically gets out of the way. Maybe she’ll leave too? For example, join her sister in France to widen her horizons… and maybe accompany Laura? See, that Black Star producer spoke french. Perhaps Laura is going around those parts too. Having Mahiru and Laura leave together might soften the blow of the latter’s departure. I know Laura is bravely chasing her ambitions and all, but feeling alone in the Aikatsu world is the most depressing thing ever. Hard times become easier when you have at least a friend around you (oh god, that sounds so corny). And it would make my crack pairing actually possible. Win-win.

Yuzu and Lilienne… alas, they have been effectively useless since the start of season 2. I can’t see them or their relationship being explored any further. They’ll probably just get a couple minutes of screentime and that’s it. Too bad for them, but Lily has been pretty much comic relief for the last 50 episodes and Yuzu has been barely present at all. Let’s not prolong their suffering any further.

What happened to these two, anyway? I think they haven’t had a spoken line since that Halloween episode, more than three months ago? You’d think Juri would at least be among the VA mutineers, but she was conspicuously absent. Maybe they just didn’t want to pay her voice actress anymore.

Ako and Kirara are already an unofficial couple at this point, but Kirara must either leave Elza and stay with her, or leave Ako and stay with her mistress. The former would be cute, but to what purpose? I can’t see her leaving Elza after all that’s happened (Aria was at least newer, and already had ties with Hime). She is more likely to stick around Elza even after VA is dismantled. That way, Ako would get to keep FuwaFuwa Dream for herself, and maybe even inherit Kirara’s SPR. I’m not too worried about the two’s relationship. True friendship transcends distance (and now I’m sounding even cornier). And remember at one point Kirara took a freaking private jet from New York just to partecipate in some variety show for little kids. Modern travel systems must be that good. They could still see each other whenever they want. Maybe they have even mastered teleportation.

On a side note, all of this means the new S4 would be Yume, Koharu, Aria and Ako. Which mirrors the M4 of Subaru, Asahi, Nozomu and Kanata… as well as the currently suggested ships. That will make the shippers happy, even if it’s not further explored at all, just with the potential of it. Isn’t it all about the shipping after all?

Oh yeah. Talking of ships. Elza and Rei have been the most important characters this season. But I guess they will just sail off into the sunset together. Maybe even re-enact that Titanic scene. Nobody can tell what will happen to them, or Kirara for that matter, but not everyone’s future needs to be explored thoroughly. Sometimes, a vague (yet assuredly bright) future is a better proposition.

Two more characters who have been ignored in season 2. The one on the left has almost never appeared at all, the one on the right was relegated to comic relief. Who does it remind me of?

And a vague future is all we have ourselves too, with Aikatsu Friends looming on the horizon and very little info available, barely one month until its premiere. I will be checking it out for sure, but I don’t know whether I’ll stick with it yet. In a way, like Machi two years ago, Aikatsu Stars was a big investment for me, bigger than I initially expected, and one that I don’t feel quite ready to replace. Also, I’ll confess that none of the character designs for Friends seem interesting enough, at least so far.

But we’ll see about that when the time comes. For now, we should just make the most of next week and the rest of the month. After all, like I said, my predictions can only be 101% wrong, so I will be surprised for sure.

And maybe that’s why I’ve stuck around for so long: even in its overall predictability, somehow Stars has managed to surprise me all the way through.

Older But Faster

Life goes on as it has always done, and so does my testing. Occasionally, I manage to find something interesting, such as this Riva 128 which had been abandoned in a waste management center. Might as well give it a new home.

Gotta love the ridiculously small heatsink. At first I thought it was a bad patch-job by the card’s previous owner, but checking VGAMuseum proved me wrong.

I already have a Riva 128ZX, but it was disappointing. Bad results in Direct3D and even in OpenGL left me somewhat cold. Some research, however, showed that the ZX came in two flavors: slower 64-bits SDRAM and faster 128-bits SGRAM. The former was much more common, meaning that you are more likely to find it around today. For comparison, the original Riva 128 was limited to 4MB, but always SGRAM. That alone wouldn’t explain the quality issues, though, since my tests were way worse than I expected. So I thought it could be a drivers issue, and tried the same universal drivers available on the Nvidia website. Indeed, same problems. But here comes STB to the rescue.

As it turns out, this specific Riva 128 is a STB Velocity 128, a fairly common model of its time. And STB made its own drivers for the card. Which I managed to find. I forgot the website, alas, but I downloaded them already. So now they are safe for posterity. After some extensive testing, I did find one useful set: drivers 0132 give me the best Direct3D quality and speed overall.

Only one problem then: OpenGL support is not available. For that, you gotta use the newer 0166 drivers, and those have the exact same issues in D3D as the latest drivers on Nvidia’s website, if not worse. Anyway, OpenGL works well with those, so I was able to test Quake 2 and still get much better framerates than the ZX, which at this point I’m assuming is because of the latter’s SDRAM memory. Unfortunately, with just 4MB of video memory, 1024×768 is never an option. But arguably, this wasn’t the kind of card you’d have wanted to run at anything higher than 800×600 anyway.

Specs: i440BX2, Pentium 3-450mhz, 128MB PC100

I wish I was able to test the ZX with those same 0132 drivers, but there’s a hardware check: when I tried to install the drivers, it let me do it, but then refused to boot Windows 98 due to “wrong hardware”. Crafty. I had to remove the drivers from safe mode. Either way, I’m guessing the scores would have been appreciably lower, just like in Quake 2.

On the plus side, the 8MBs of the ZX give you better textures. With its smaller amount of memory, the Velocity has some trouble with distant mipmaps, as seen on the barman in Jedi Knight here. AGP texturing, if available at all, must not have been very good.

One weird thing: the newer drivers show multitexturing among the available features, although obviously the card cannot support it. With the STB drivers, this wasn’t the case. Perhaps Nvidia added it at the very end of the Riva’s life to make it more appealing to the average consumer. Or maybe the drivers will manage textures to reduce the workload for the CPU. I’m not sure.

Dithering is a sore spot. The Riva 128 shows an overly grainy image, and while noise isn’t quite as irregular as with the Radeon VE, it’s much more prevalent. At least Nvidia got better later on.

And while the STB drivers don’t have the same issues with subpixel accuracy and mipmapping, filtering is still lacking and trilinear is of course absent. So the card has its limits, to be sure. But at least this experience goes to futher show that, on older grapgics cards, drivers could make all the difference.

Now, what is my next card going to be? Maybe another trip to the waste management center tomorrow will show me the way…

My little SiS (6326) can’t be this fast…er

Remember when I tried the SiS 6326 C3 and it sucked? Well, I ultimately decided to test the C5 revision as well. I actually found one still in its box. The stuff people keep around these days… it has its drivers disc (only includes version 1.23, so pretty useless today) and even a small user manual.

Never even heard of this brand. But the side of the box implies that they might have made an Intel i752. Now that would be a rare find.

So let’s look at the facts. The C3 revision had its fair share of issues, chiefly some horrible perspective correction and warping polygons. After completing my tests, I can say that these are mostly gone here. I say mostly, because it’s still not as good as some other cards… but considering the price, it’s not that bad.

One quick look at the manual would show the line “Supports 4MB SGRAM memory configurations”. Suspicious. My model is supposed to have 8MB. And it is. Except that, as it turns out, no game will run at anything above 800×600, choking on Out Of Memory errors. Digging around the net, I discovered that some people believe the SiS 6326 can’t actually access more than 4MB. That seems to be true. It would mean everything else after that amount can’t be used as framebuffer and becomes texture memory. My tests, again, seem to corroborate this theory. Having an 8MB card is useful though, because unlike my 4MB card, it doesn’t drop any textures. And let’s face it, the 6326 is slow as a snail so you wouldn’t really wanna run on 1024×768, even in the simplest games.

I was also able to find a specific “High Angle” driver (yes, that’s the version, it doesn’t have a number) that manages to support OpenGL in Quake 2 (about as badly as you’d expect) and somehow allows 3DMark 99 to run on its default settings. Speed is just as bad as always, perhaps slightly faster than before, but not in any appreciable manner. It’s really all about the improved image quality. Still, OpenGL manages to make it even worse.

The Quake 2 demo1.dm2 hall of shame (i440BX2, P3-450mhz, 128MB PC100). I guess the Riva and i740 don’t really belong in there, but that performance drop on 1024×768 is quite ugly.

Strangely, the card seems to use the same refresh and resolution timings as the newer SiS 305, rather than those used by the previous 6326 model. Maybe some things were changed in between.

With its outstanding issues fixed, the 6326 is a little bit faster than a Rage IIc and even a bit more reliable. For 1998 however, one year after the original (buggy) 6326 was released, it was just too slow, no matter how small your budget may have been. It sure sold a lot though. I wonder how many people bought one, just to discover that it was the true successor of the graphics decelerator? Good times indeed.

Writing about whatever comes to mind